The Chicago Tribune last week reported on their investigation of the coal tar industry’s role in opposing sealant restrictions across the country. They found that industry research “falls short” of demonstrating there are no problems with coal tar and that at times “overstated the findings supporting coal tar.”

The Tribune reported the temporary success industry has gained in communities like Des Plaines, Illinois and Springfield, Missouri. Legislation to ban coal tar pavement sealants has failed at this time in each of those communities after strong industry push-back. It also mentioned failed efforts in Michigan, Maryland and Illinois at the state level.

The article pointed out that the industry turned to two consulting firms to bolster their position, Exponent and Environ. Interestingly Exponent also was found by the Tribune to represent the flame retardant interests of the tobacco industry in a series entitled:Playing with Fire. The industry-funded scientists contend they were not influenced by who was paying for the coal tar studies.

The Tribune also interviewed Dr. Barbara Mahler, one of the primary government researches on this topic from the USGS. She said that while the industry studies conclude uncertain findings, they tell their audiences something different. “They make very misleading statements, and if you don’t know any better it can all sound convincing,” Mahler said in an interview. “The conclusions of their studies are they can’t reach any conclusions. But you wouldn’t know that from what they say to the public.”

Changing Tide?

The article goes on to state that momentum may be growing in favor of banning this sealant product. Cited were bans growing in Minnesota, dozens of contractors pledgingnot to use coal tar in Minnesota and Wisconsin and the first ban in suburban Chicago,South Barrington.

Cindy Rushefsky a Councilmember in Springfield, Missouri echoed this sentiment after the University of Missouri did their own study of coal tar sealant pollution in the “Queen City of the Ozarks” and confirmed the problem is real and local. “The industry pulled out all the stops because they didn’t want us to set a precedent for other cities,” Rushefsky told the Tribune. “We’ve got our own data and the data is strong. Austin is not unique and neither are we. They should see the writing on the wall.”

She plans to reintroduce the proposal later this year according to the article.